What is roundness in a horse??? It is when a horse stretches it’s top line longitudinally from the poll to it’s dock over it’s back in an arc. By extending its muscles in this way over it’s back, the horse is better equipped to carry a rider. Creating more muscle build up and strength whilst staying relaxed.
When a horse is worked ‘over the back’, it is asked to stretch the back muscles in an arc in order to lift it’s back in an upwards movement under the saddle. In order to do this correctly ,the horse needs to engage it’s core and lift it’s abdominal muscles too. It’s much like a person doing core strength exercises. Strengthening core muscles makes physical activities easier.It also builds the muscles that support the back and pelvis making the horse stronger and able to carry us without the risk of injury.
The more we can lengthen the horses back muscles this way, the more ‘swing’ is created. Swing is the elasticity within the horses body. This in turn results in relaxation for the horse. With relaxation comes a well adjusted mind for training.It is evident if a horse is truly swinging in it’s back when you watch it’s tail. A horse’s tail will swing from side to side in the rhythm of its steps when ‘Round”. It is also comfortable to sit on. Whilst the horses back muscles are relaxing and swinging it has a cushioning effect for the rider. Whilst a horse that isn’t ’round’ will feel jarring and hard to sit on.
A horse should always be warmed up in a stretching ’round’ frame. This ensures the first step of the German training scale of relaxation and rhythm. Once warmed up, we can bring the horse up and start to ask for more engagement and collection. However even though the horse may be able to collect well, you need to keep assessing the tension and tightness of the horse during it’s training session. Returning to the stretching ‘long and low’ whenever the horse has offered some good work or starts to tense up. So the horse will determine when the ‘long and low’ work is necessary and for what duration. Asking the horse to stretch longitudinally will release the tension in the horses back muscles. At the conclusion of a session, we should also return to stretching in order to finish with a relaxed frame of mind and eliminate physical tension.
The alteration of the horses frame whilst maintaining roundness builds strength. It is a slow process which takes years to develop enough to do FEI level dressage. The horses strength is an absolute must, if it is to be able to perform true collective work like the passage and piaffe. Conformation plays a part too. Some horses are built rounder and more compact than others. So some are more suitable to become athletes that can do the higher movements. Hence not all horses can achieve Grand Prix level dressage. Due to this fact ,horses are more purpose bred these days for different disciplines. In saying that most riders can’t train well enough to attain those levels.
Nothing beats good training. However we can assist horses with prior preparation with things like lunging in running reins. When a horse is being lunged, it is not carrying a rider, so it is able to relax it’s back muscles much quicker and easier. Meanwhile not having to worry about balancing itself with the weight of a rider on board. Even lunging needs to be done properly, as if ’roundness’ isn’t achieved, it can actually be detrimental. Some systems and bad riding encourage ‘hollowing’ of the horses back which in turn will cause tension, pain and ultimately break the horse down. Not to mention causing physiological issues and behavioral problems like rearing.